Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Politics

Character Candling

candling egg

From Merriam Webster:

candle (transitive verb): to examine by holding between the eye and a light; especially : to test (eggs) in this way for staleness, blood clots, fertility, and growth

Have you ever looked at a word you’ve written a thousand times as though it couldn’t possibly be spelled that way? You doubt yourself, double check it in the dictionary and carry on. I have recently had the opportunity to reassess personal relationships I’ve held sacred, but upon examination found I have done so without a compelling reason.  No longer a child, I held up these individuals to the same light of reason, logic, compassion and magnanimity  to which I would hope to be judged, not unlike candling an egg. Rather than record my observations, I sought insight from those more intelligent. Here are my thoughts via their appropriated words, alpha by author:

“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.”     Maya Angelou

“Beware the man of a single book.”     St. Thomas Aquinas

“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.”     Isaac Asimov

“The basic stimulus to the intelligence is doubt, a feeling that the meaning of an experience is not self-evident.”     W.H. Auden

“I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance.”     Reuben Blades

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”     Derek Bok

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”     Robert Burns

“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”     Albert Camus

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”     George Carlin

“The IQ and the life expectancy of the average American recently passed each other in opposite directions.”     George Carlin

“I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity.”     Marcus Tullius Cicero

“I am not ashamed to confess I am ignorant of what I do not know.”     Marcus Tullius Cicero

“He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”     Marcus Tullius Cicero

“To live is to think.”     Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.”     Eoin Colfer

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”     Confucius

“Ignorance is the night of the mind, a night without moon or star.”     Confucius

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.”     Confucius

“He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.”     Confucius

“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”     Dalai Lama

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”     Charles Darwin

“And, in fine, of false sciences I thought I knew the worth sufficiently to escape being deceived by the professions of an alchemist, the predictions of an astrologer, the impostures of a magician, or by the artifices and boasting of any of those who profess to know things of which they are ignorant.”     René Descartes

“Military guys are rarely as smart as they think they are, and they’ve never gotten over the fact that civilians run the military.”     Maureen Dowd

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”     Albert Einstein

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”     Albert Einstein

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”     Harlan Ellison

“Fear always springs from ignorance.”     Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.”     Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”     Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”     Euripides

“Anger exceeding limits causes fear and excessive kindness eliminates respect.”     Euripides

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”     F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Stupidity lies in wanting to draw conclusions.”     Gustave Flaubert

“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”     Benjamin Franklin

“The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.”     Benjamin Franklin

“The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.”     Benjamin Franklin

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”     Benjamin Franklin

“I wash my hands of those who imagine chattering to be knowledge, silence to be ignorance, and affection to be art.”     Kahlil Gibran

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, selfishness, evil — or else an absolute ignorance.”     Graham Greene

“If you’re gonna be stupid you gotta be tough.”     John Grisham

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”     Stephen Hawking

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”     Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

“The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.”     Elbert Hubbard

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”     Elbert Hubbard

“The learned man knows that he is ignorant.”     Victor Hugo

“The tax which will be paid for the purpose of education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”     Thomas Jefferson

“Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth.”     Joseph Joubert

“The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing — to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.”     John Keats

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”     Søren Kierkegaard

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”     Martin Luther King, Jr.

“A fool can easily be known by what proceeds from his or her mouth.”     Adedayo Kingjerry

“Living is easy with eyes closed.”     John Lennon

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.”     Michael Levine

“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”     Abraham Lincoln

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”     Nelson Mandela

“Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.”     Groucho Marx

“A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition.”     Henry Miller

“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”     George Orwell

“I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise.”     Blaise Pascal

“And whenever anyone informs us that he has found a man who knows all the arts, and all things else that anybody knows, and every single thing with a higher degree of accuracy than any other man –whoever tells us this, I think that we can only imagine him to be a simple creature who is likely to have been deceived by some wizard or actor whom he met, and whom he thought all-knowing, because he himself was unable to analyze the nature of knowledge and ignorance and imitation.”     Plato

“A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.”     Alexander Pope

“There is no reply to the ignorant like keeping silence.”     Proverb

“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.”     Robert Quillen

“When ignorance gets started it knows no bounds.”     Will Rogers

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”     Bertrand Russell

“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”     Bertrand Russell

“Two things are to be remembered: that a man whose opinions and theories are worth studying may be presumed to have had some intelligence, but that no man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth on any subject whatever. When an intelligent man expresses a view which seems to us obviously absurd, we should not attempt to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand how it ever came to seem true. This exercise of historical and psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our thinking, and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different temper of mind.”     Bertrand Russell

“Ignorant people see life as either existence or non-existence, but wise men see it beyond both existence and non-existence to something that transcends them both; this is an observation of the Middle Way.”     Seneca

“There is no darkness but ignorance.”     William Shakespeare

“A knavish speech sleeps in a fool’s ear.”     William Shakespeare

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”     William Shakespeare

“The shortest route to courage is absolute ignorance.”     Dan Simmons

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”     Socrates

“It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”     Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”     Maurice Switzer

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”     Thomas Stephen Szasz

“Ignorance and inconsideration are the two great causes of the ruin of mankind.”     John Tillotson

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”     Leo Tolstoy

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”     Mark Twain

“Ignorance is a virus. Once it starts spreading, it can only be cured by reason. For the sake of humanity, we must be that cure.”     Neil deGrasse Tyson

“He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.”     Voltaire

“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”     Voltaire

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”     Kurt Vonnegut

“Irony is wasted on the stupid.”     Oscar Wilde

“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”     Oscar Wilde

“He had just about enough intelligence to open his mouth when he wanted to eat, but certainly no more.”     P.G. Wodehouse

“Ignorance is not bliss – it is oblivion.”     Philip Wylie

“Rich people have small TVs and big libraries, and poor people have small libraries and big TVs.”     Zig Ziglar

Which quote is your favorite?

Mine?

“Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.”     William Shakespeare.

Although you may recognize it as:

“The pen is mightier than the sword (or gun).”

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Mutually Assured Paranoia

MAP

“My factories may make an end of war sooner than your congresses. The day when two army corps can annihilate each other in one second, all civilized nations, it is to be hoped, will recoil from war and discharge their troops.” Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, 1909

“The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” Omar Bradley, U.S. Army General, 1948

John von Neumann, whose genius as a mathematician and scientist earned him a spot on the Manhattan Project, later used game theory to develop the Cold War’s Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine. Deployed in the United States by “Whiz Kid” Robert McNamara, its theory goes something like this:

With the use of nuclear armed ICBM submarines, a unilateral nuclear strike by either the United States of the Soviet Union would be met with a second strike on the aggressor, thus ensuring the destruction of both.

In a classic case of reductio ad absurdum, this folly was perfectly demonstrated in the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. And while the ridiculous nature of this doctrine passed for foreign policy, we did not destroy the earth. Whether this is a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc or whether MAD should be credited for carrying us through our nuclear infancy is a matter for others to debate. Either way, we can all agree that the acronym is befitting the doctrine.

Apply this now to the NRA’s dream of a fully armed America as a means of ultimate protection. Every man, woman and child carrying an AR-15 with them at all times with a pistol in their sock, you know, just in case. Reductio ad absurdum? Or America: 2013? Unlike the quote from Gautama Buddha, who said, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared,” it seems to me that the ubiquitous availability of firearms would lead to casualties beyond imagination due to the deadly combination of man’s incendiary temper and the impossible retrieval of a bullet once fired. If this be so, then mankind is neither mature enough nor evolved enough to have firearms. If we were, we wouldn’t need them. Because we’re not, we shouldn’t be allowed them. Anything less casts us as troglodytes, monsters and condemned to live a life in mutually assured paranoia.

As McNamara later said, “One cannot fashion a credible deterrent out of an incredible action.”

Year One

blog

I started this blog one year ago tomorrow. Not that I expected anybody to read it, but as a way for me to pour burning liquid emotion onto my keyboard in hopes of having it coalesce on the screen into something resembling understanding, logic or rationality in order for me to carry on. All too often, I have failed.

My first post was simply a reposting of a blog entry made by Jessica Redfield who had escaped a mass shooting at the Eaton Center in Toronto. She had posted it on June 5th. One year ago tonight, she was one of twelve murdered and 58 wounded at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Here, frozen forever, is her last Twitter post:

JessicaRedfield Twitter

Having been cast to live in Texas as a result of the world-class medical facilities at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and seeing them as the best chance we had to fight my wife’s rare and aggressive breast cancer, I had become increasingly angry at the cavalier attitude Texans have with their guns. The “Come and Take It” crowd, most of them displaying Zimmerman-like bravado (when armed with a firearm), hiding anatomic shortcomings (if shoe size is a true indicator and not some urban legend) and compensating by driving the tallest, most ridiculous looking monster-trucks legal to drive on public roads.  The shooting in Aurora drove me to write. It was a cathartic exercise.

Mixed with equal parts sarcasm, anger, depression and pomposity, I put down in words my boiling rage. A few comments popped up, although in the vast universe of the internet I have no idea how these people tripped over my little blog. And so it went. Until December 14th.

I was sitting at the hospital while my wife was being restaged when the first news reports began to flash about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A shooting at an elementary school will be very traumatic for the children, I thought, assuming that the victim(s) would be adults involved in a deadly dispute of some kind. Slowly the details emerged. Children were among the victims and their numbers kept climbing. Like most of the world, I read the reports in disbelief, hoping for a clarification from the news outlets of a terrible mistake. Instead, the numbers continued to climb. More children were injured; more children were among the dead.  Like many other dates that are seared into our collective consciousness, I will never forget where I was when I heard the news. My wife and I made the hour drive home from the hospital that evening, although I cannot remember actually steering the car. That night, I shook.

The next day I told my wife that I needed to do something, anything to try to change the world in which I had sentenced my children to live. I was ashamed for my previous inaction and tacit acceptance of gun violence; I was ashamed for the country. The rest of the world looked upon America as a land populated by blood-thirsty renegades armed better than Dirty Harry with a fuse shorter than a Bruce Willis’s hair. Surely, after this mind-skewing, paradigm shift, Washington would act responsibly? Americans would demand it! Politicians would push and shove their way to the front of the line to co-sign responsible gun legislation! Unaware of any grassroots organizations and devoid of any previous political activism, I reached out to the one group I knew with a history of fighting the gun lobby, the Brady Campaign.

“I haven’t had a representative in the Houston area for three years,” said the head of the Texas Brady chapter. Roll that around in your head for a second. Houston is the country’s fourth largest city with a population of over 2 million people and the Brady Campaign has no local chapter? Hell, Connecticut has three!

And yet, in spite of my newly embraced activism, it all still seemed a little remote. I could still only partially allow myself to invite in the nightmare of what it would have been like if it had been my children. Emotionally, as a parent, as a human, it was a door I was only willing to open a crack, lest the devastating emotion behind it drown me. That all changed on a conference call.

The head of the Texas chapter of the Brady Campaign invited me to participate in a call with hundreds of other members and a guest speaker. It was scheduled for Monday, January 7th at 5:00. Because I was still at work, I stayed late and joined the call already in progress. There was a woman speaking with intimate knowledge of the shooting in Aurora. I listened intently, but removed and muted. However, as I listened, I began to piece together who the speaker was. At the moment my mind made the connection, she spoke the words that will forever haunt me. It was Jessica Redfield’s mother, and she was describing, in vivid detail, the events of that night and how, where and why her daughter had been murdered. I could no longer prevent that nightmarish door from opening. Jessica Redfield’s mother was telling me how that door had been ripped from its hinges and cast into space. Suddenly, it was all very real. I had come full circle. What I had started in July as an angry blog by simply cutting and pasting an entry from a theater shooting victim had brought me to listening to the mother of that same victim on a January night. Surreal. Emotional. Devastating. Goose bumps. Real.

I assumed I would write a few articles and make a few calls on behalf of the Brady Campaign. However, soon, word spread and I was being asked to speak at local area democratic clubs. Then I was asked to debate a state representative on a local PBS television program. (The Tea Party twit backed out at the last minute!) Immediately, armed with logic, a rational ethos and compassion, my inner Toby Ziegler/Josh Lyman/Josiah Bartlet took over. I carried photos of the Sandy Hook victims in my wallet. My speech ballooned to 45 minutes. I was able to scan the crowd, in front of whom I was soon to speak, and pick out the planted RWNJ’s itching to ask me to define an assault weapon. It became my personal goal to piss off at least one person in the crowd at each speech, although living in Texas, that was not a lofty challenge. Panel discussions followed and more speeches.

But soon, I found that while the name “Brady Campaign” got me in the door to speak, they did little else locally. I believe the Brady Campaign in Washington continues to do wonderful things standing up to the vitriol of the NRA and battling in state legislatures across the country. However, I needed to belong to something at the local level. What I found was my gender shutting me out of the most amazing group of people I had met in this fight.

It seemed that whenever I was asked to speak, so too was a rotating posse of equally exorcised and like-minded members of the Houston chapter of the newly formed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, or just Moms Demand Action. These women were phenomenal. Educated, passionate and ready to go toe-to-toe with any gun rights wing nut, this group of similarly accidental activists bolstered my spirits and strengthened my resolve. Fuck not with a mama bear protecting her cubs, lest you unleash her limitless wrath. Enrage 100,000 of them and I pity the NRA. In short, they were the grassroots organization I longed for. I longed to be an “honorary Mom.”

We saw each other everywhere. From speech to speech, there they were. They were on-stage at a rally on the steps of the state capitol in Austin where I managed to get into a verbal confrontation with a RWNJ who tried to crash the proceedings (with his young grandson in tow). They were at a protest outside the Houston-hosted, annual paranoia jamboree (officially known as the NRA Annual Conference) where, again, I got to piss off a different RWNJ. It was there that I saw Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis. Jesse was just one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook. I stood ten feet from Mr. Heslin and wanted to speak to him, but my brain could conceive of no combination of words that could pacify him or rally him. What could I say that didn’t sound shallow, condescending or meaningless?  His eyes conveyed a pain, a hollowness that seemed to match the emptiness he must have felt inside, an ember and ash hole where his heart had once lived, a void which Jesse once filled.  I also saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hocksprung, principal of Sandy Hook and one of the first killed on that still inconceivable day. Ms. Lafferty had the same look of pain, but also a sense of fury behind her eyes that I wanted to bottle. And the Moms were there at a press conference with United States Representative Sheila Jackson Lee outside the Rothko Chapel commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and beseeching the Senate not to filibuster the Manchin-Toomey amendment. This was a cause with character (and characters). I was not alone in this. There were now faces and voices with which I could bond.

And so, it has been one year since Aurora and 217 days since Newtown. The challenges that lie before us are still all there. Washington is still lethargic and paralyzed. The Texas legislature has passed 14 laws weakening gun laws. Countless assault rifles have been sold to those paranoid “patriots” convinced that the president will come knocking on their door to confiscate their guns. And the American public, with their fruit fly length memory and fickle attention span have moved on to other more current atrocities, shifting their outrage to a new target, resigned to the fact that their demand for gun control legislation (within the confines of our instant gratification society) was not fulfilled.

 Brady Fact Sheet

It has been one year since Aurora. One year, but for me, this is only Year One. We haven’t done enough. But we are not alone and we are not dissuaded. In a country awash in guns, there will be another mass shooting. Americans will again display their transient outrage and, maybe, Washington will listen. It is a long road through an unfair and uneven process, but change will come. We will be here fighting for those who cannot. And when change does come, ask yourself, “What did I do?” Let this be your Year One.

Observations from a Recent Holiday

Orwell 1984

War is Peace

Freedom is Slavery

Ignorance is Strength

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

A change in my wife’s chemotherapy regimen recently opened up the opportunity for us to visit Paris and London. It was originally supposed to be an early 25th anniversary gift to my wife last September (our 23rd anniversary), but a sudden, nasty infection forced us to cancel the trip hours before we were to leave for the airport. Crestfallen doesn’t begin to cover our disappointment. When presented with this window of time (before she began a new phase II clinical trial), we decided to schedule a last minute trip and take our twins with us who were home from their freshman year at college.

Armed with my own agenda of sights and attractions I wished to see, I found that instead, I saw the trip through the eyes of my family. My daughter, studying fine art and enamored with art history, provided me with a different appreciation of the architecture, style, culture and art of these cities that I would otherwise have missed. My son, the philosopher, showed me the political and societal differences beyond language that I would otherwise have missed. My wife, showed me that while the Champs Elysses essentially looked like Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street or any chain-choked mall in suburban America, it was the small side streets two blocks removed from the tourist centers that offered the best food, flowers and shopping. And together, they all agreed that while it was important to tick-off as many items from our “bucket list” as possible, we all enjoyed and appreciated sitting at a sidewalk café eating tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwiches on the most amazing bread while watching the world go by the most. To a person, we all agreed that we wished it was our second trip to these wonderful cities so that we could immerse ourselves in the local culture and pace without the pressure of “seeing” everything. I was forcing us to run everywhere, to the detriment of my wife and the chagrin of my children.

Having never traveled outside the country before, it was also interesting to see both how other countries existed, but also how they perceived Americans.

My son noticed (and was not a little bothered by) the soldiers patrolling the Eiffel Tower armed with very large weapons. So too did he notice the constant government monitoring in London via video cameras. These were visible on motorway markers and Tube stations, as well as mentioned repeatedly on notices throughout the city. Ironic, that London (Airstrip 1), would spark this observation in my son. Although to be fair, the only mustachioed poster we saw was not of Big Brother but of Brad Pitt on a poster for World War Z. We neither saw Winston Smith, nor any IngSoc signs.

Rather, I had an interesting conversation (or perhaps only a glimpse of a conversation) with the taxi driver (who was an (East) German expat). Sitting in the passenger seat of the small minivan on the way to the apartment we were renting, he asked me where we were from.

Instinctively, I replied, over the whine of the small engine, “The States.”

“Not Canada?” he asked, shooting me a quick, knowing look.

I admit that it took me a few seconds to digest the meaning of his question. Full of ourselves for being the “world’s police,” United States citizens somehow have managed to believe that we can belittle the rest of the world’s population while assuming  we are both more civilized and, therefore, more entitled and have convinced ourselves that the rest of the world is somehow beholden to us. Apparently, more cautious travelers hide their US heritage beneath a more innocuous Canadian visage.  Surely an interesting question from an ex-East German citizen obviously more sensitive to European viewpoints of Americans than me!

Other, more obvious, observations include the size of the cars driven. Nowhere did we see the parade of Tahoe’s, Suburban’s or tricked-out F-150’s that I see on my way to work here in Houston on a daily basis. Rather, the number of Vespa’s, motorcycles and bicycles moving like fruit flies in and out of traffic in Paris showed that the sudden appearance of a Suburban near the Arc du Triomph would generate both a traffic jam and trigger an enormous number of iPhone photos. All of the cars were very small, and yet, we saw no horrific accidents (or even a fender bender). And while they drive aggressively, there is no animosity in their intentions. It is simply a matter of getting from point A to point B. Perhaps “Road Rage” is an American phenomenon (which, coupled with the number of guns in our population can only lead to more problems). Something else we noticed was the absence of bumper stickers on the cars. There were no French flags or Union Jacks on the rear windows, no stick figures of every family member, no honor roll declarations, no personalized high school football/basketball/baseball/swimming/band/dance stickers, no NRA stickers, no Molon Labe stickers, no Come and Take It stickers, no NASCAR stickers, not even stickers of universities or professional sports teams. Apparently, rear view windows are there to provide visual clearance and bumpers are there to absorb collisions rather than replace our Facebook pages.

Another observation was the amount of complaining we heard. Parisians are very animated in their discussions with those with whom they are dining. And yet, there was, again, no animosity in their demeanor. While I couldn’t possibly understand what they were discussing, the physical cues they exhibited showed them to be in stark difference on whatever subject they were discussing. And while voices were occasionally raised, never once (and this goes for London’s pubs as well) did I feel that a disagreement was about to escalate into a brawl. That cannot be said for most places I’ve been in America. Testosterone and bravado seem to flood the American male much quicker than their European counterparts. In fact, the only complaining we heard in all of the lines we stood in was from Americans.

The gardens at Versailles are enormous, dwarfing the colossal chateau itself. As my wife is saddled with the side effects of chemotherapy (and despite her Herculean spirit), we thought it was a wonderful idea to rent a golf cart to tour the gardens, rather than expend her energy walking the estate. The firm contracted to provide the carts could expand their supply a hundredfold to meet the demand, therefore, the line was long and did not move quickly. As we (finally) reached the front of the line, the young man working there, who spoke English and was of Indian decent) took me aside and said that his family was visiting him in France and he was going to give them the next cart. My first thought was, hey, those are the perks of working here! Good for you! However, the woman from Kansas two couples behind us was not so understanding and went on and on about how she would have done this and that to the kid, blah, blah, blah. Truly, the only complaining we heard was from Americans.

I am not naïve enough to think that everything we saw was perfect, nor that what we did see constituted the “average” life of a citizen of these cities. However, there were stark differences and while I continue to struggle with paralysis in Washington, the torpid national response to everyday gun violence in America, the wholesale abdication of personal responsibility, the vitriol of the Tea Party, the ongoing religious hypocrisy of the right wing, the adoration of celebrity, the acceptance of lower educational performance, the increasing fracturing of societal ethos, epistemic closure as an unintended consequence of the internet and the vapid, ossified acid spewed on AM radio, I am reminded that is up to us to make tomorrow better than today. Our children are watching, and so is the rest of the world, and like our children, they will not wait.

Jesus Shrugged

Jesus Shrugged

Six months ago today a young man with a history of mental illness, knowing his mother owned a legally obtained arsenal, shot and killed her, took these weapons designed to obliterate human flesh and proceeded to an elementary school where he shot his way in, murdered six dedicated educators and blew the faces off of 20 terrified six year old children with between 3 and 11 bullets each.

The fact that words could ever be arranged in this order, in one run-on sentence, capable of painting a scene of horror beyond Hollywood’s imagination (or sense of propriety) should have shocked us. Neither Edgar Allan Poe nor Stephen King could (nor would) conjure up a story with this plot, so sick is the premise. And yet, this sentence describes America in the 21st century. Worse yet is the reaction we had. We did nothing. “Pray,” our politicians told us. Any other solution is a knee-jerk reaction, anti-American, unpatriotic and unconstitutional. We allowed the seeds to be planted years ago by the NRA (and others) which today have blossomed into the paralysis we see in Washington, the evisceration of existing law and the flooding of America with firepower and an absence of responsibility.

While neither Hank Reardon, Dagney Taggert, Jim Taggert nor any other characters in Ayn Rand’s myopic, self-centered, Gold-is-the-new-God, dystopian, It’s-all-about-Me, fantasy have children, the rest of society seeks a balance between personal and societal advancement. Personal responsibility, the overriding theme of Atlas Shrugged, is rewarded in personal wealth. This shallow, simplistic idea only works in the abstract world of fiction. In reality, we are all part of an ant colony whose success or failure depends not only on our own participation and success, but on the participation and success of the other ants.

And in spite of this, the Tea Party (the new Republican party of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) seeks to add Atlas Shrugged as the new, New Testament. The King Ted version of the Bible. Jesus Shrugged. God, guns and screw everybody else. I’ve got mine, you get yours. You’re on your own. Come and take it. Molon Labe.

181 days have passed since the (still incomprehensible) horror took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Spineless Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, afraid for their NRA rating (and the cash that accompanies it) and catering to the dullest, most simplistic but vociferous, absolutist, “patriotic” constituents, snubbed every attempt to clutch rationality from the jaws of paranoia and closeted racism, lied about imaginary gun registries, drove up gun sales with inflammatory rhetoric, ignored tear-stained relatives, friends or victims of gun violence declared “victory” for the Second Amendment and chuckled as “King Obama” lost. It is if any battle is worth political annihilation of the republic as long as this president loses, topic (or victims) be damned. How very patriotic.

Gun ownership in this country is down to less than one-third of households and yet gun sales continue to climb. If fewer people own guns, but guns continue to sell, it can only be surmised that the same people are buying more guns, which begs the question, how many guns can one shoot at once? It seems to me that the NRA needs to team up with doctors to develop an accelerated evolutionary path for these “patriots” so they can grow additional index fingers with which to pull triggers. Anything less is unconstitutional and against their God-given right as guaranteed under the Second Amendment and conferred upon them in the new, new testament.

America’s best days are ahead of it, but only if we stop trying to live in the past.

Six months with no action. Shame on Congress, shame on us.

Gunistan

After seeing the blinder-wearing, simplistic, dogmatic, vitriol of the attendees at the NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston (and its glaring lack of racial diversity), I now agree with the speakers at the convention, such as:

Governor Rick “Prayer, Guns, and um…um… oops” Perry

Senator Ted “Filibuster and Lie about an imaginary Gun Registry” Cruz

Ted Cruz website

There was NO gun registry language in the proposed legislation that Senator Cruz first filibustered against and then voted against. In fact, there were strict penalties in the legislation for anyone attempting a gun registry. That did not stop the Senator from posting this on his website and causing dim followers to froth.

Senator John “Poison Pill” Cornyn

Attorney General Greg “Keep your guns, come to Texas” Abbott

Representative Steve “If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn’t Be Aborted/Win an AR-15!” Stockman

Texas Representative Steve “What’s the Supremacy Clause?” Toth

Governor Sarah “Helicopter Hunter” Palin

Ted “Messy Pants” Nugent

Wayne “Tyranny, Confiscation, Tyranny, Confiscation” LaPierre

“Leadership” Forum!

Senator Rick “The Bill of Rights came from God” Santorum

and Glenn “Am I Still Relevant?” Beck.

When these Pavlov-inspired  “leaders” have the ability to distill a solution to all of society’s ills down to a bumper sticker (“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”) and have it swallowed whole by their one-note flock who hug the Bible in one hand and an AR-15 in the other, who can somehow justify loving God and can, with a clear conscience, kill His creatures, who cloak their racism as patriotism and assemble arsenals to defend themselves against the America they profess to love, who consider “victory” to be any time the “fake” black president loses and, of whom  44% consider the possibility of an armed rebellion against the government likely in the next few years, yes, maybe we should give them what they want. Let them secede. Concern over the porosity of our border and a demand for an impenetrable fence begins to sound good. In fact, we should insist that the fence continue around the entire Texas perimeter and commit every gun manufacturer and gun owner in the other 49 states to live in this newly minted country we’ll call Gunistan.  God bless Gunistan. Lock and Load.

Wow. Just, wow.

While the rest of the country is trying to curtail the carnage caused by a society drowning in firearms, the Texas legislature recently passed 12 bills weakening Texas gun laws. So take your guns, hug them tight, tuck them in at night under your pillow and the rest of us will leave you alone. Please do us the courtesy of doing the same. No longer will you fear Texas turning blue. It will forever be, blood-red.

Gunistan

GUEST POST: From a Friend

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Today, NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre asked the question in his NRA conference keynote speech “How many Bostonians wished they had guns two weeks ago?”, while rhetorical, I took the time to answer.

Wayne,
I can’t speak for everybody in the city, but when I was terrified for my life and all sense of security, the first thing that I thought of was not “I wish I had a firearm”, in fact, that thought was probably the last thing in my mind. I didn’t even begin to entertain that possibility until long after things had settled down. And when I did entertain that possibility for a fleeting moment, I cast it aside as baseless paranoia that would only endanger in the long run, not protect. My first thoughts were about my loved ones and a desire to stay safe through smarts, caring, and a trust of those authorities that remained. Not through a desire to display my ‘self-defense’ by having the leverage to impose a threat upon others, but though a solidarity in my community that was holding each other in its arms, and not pointing its arms at each other.

What I learned a few weeks ago is that if those impulses to have a gun and succumb to your fear are what strikes you immediately, you are probably an unstable person. You are probably a frightened person, and you are probably buying a gun in this spur of the moment decision out of a personal fear. Because its the easy way out, and we’re inclined to take that action as human beings. But it’s also the dangerous way out, people make horrible decisions while dictated by fear, that’s one of the reasons why terrorism is horrifically dangerous. If me and thousands of other Bostonians had a gun, things may have been escalated to state of uncontained paranoia, with shots fired at people mistaken for a home intruder, or a naive view of a who the terrorists were leading to the slaying of individuals who were outside who were Chechnyan, muslim, or whatever John King was suggesting the bombers were at a given time. Because that’s what happened without a gun, some people got assaulted, or yelled at, or falsely accused, but at least they didn’t die. Fatal actions occur when we act on our fear instead of acting with tact and logic. The situation may have been a lot worse if we all had guns.

But many say these events were a sign of a police state. Yet, trough trusting the state government of Massachusetts, and the Watertown and Boston Police Departments, we still were not in a police state, we were in a middle ground where we respected government instructions and everything turned out OK. What the NRA and Wayne LaPierre fail to understand is that a firearm is not the ultimate way to be defensive, and that it’s not the only way to be safe. It turns out, when it does its job right, government protects. So does staying smart, and listening to instructions and advisories can save lives a whole lot more than giving each individual an unbelievable power to slay. Just because we have the right to a well-regulated militia, doesn’t mean we should depend on it at the first sign of panic. These things should only be used when all other options are gone, and we shouldn’t be using fear and vitriol as the NRA does to suggest that all other options are gone.

So yeah, that’s my little ramble about why the actions that shook my life didn’t impact me enough to get a firearm, nor will I get one in case I am ever afraid in the future. Fear can make monsters of us all, and the last thing a monster needs is a weapon.

I don’t know, I may just be crazy to think this, but at least I’m not Wayne LaPierre crazy.

Your pal,

Boston Strong

Statistical Significance

I wrote comments to two gun articles, one in the Houston Chronicle, one in the New York Times.

To a Houston Chronicle editorial on May 1st, I wrote the following comment:

“The NRA is an anachronism, society’s vestigial tail. When common sense becomes more common, reason and sanity will outweigh paranoia and fear-mongering. Kudos to the Chronicle for embracing civilization.”

My comment was met with six nasty, elementary grade reading level, grammatically challenged, rebukes from gun lovers.  In a “thumbs up/thumbs down” poll, my comment received 5 thumbs up and 26 thumbs down.

To a New York Times article on March 28th, I wrote the following comment:

“No, we don’t have a problem in this country!

300,000,000 guns?

87 deaths every day, including 8 children and 11 women?

90% of the public wants universal background checks and yet Congress is stymied by what to do?

Senators Paul/Cruz/Lee want to filibuster against background checks?

Republicans think voting “Nay” to every bill is a solution?

We are no longer a Christian country. We worship guns. To bastardize a phrase from the murdered John Lennon, AR-15’s are bigger than Jesus.

If this moment passes and we do nothing (again) we have failed the victims of Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Chicago and your town. Shame on us.”

My comment was met with one nasty, grammatically challenged retort telling me that crime had gone down due to the increased number of guns in society (in classic post hoc ergo proctor hoc attribution). This was met with two responses to the nasty remark showing how the writer was, in fact (damn those nasty facts!) wrong and questioning the writer’s tenuous grasp on reality.  In a “thumbs up” poll (the Times has no thumbs down option), my comment received 114 thumbs up.

Now, I’m no statistician, but there does seem to be some disconnect in these reactions. Draw your own conclusions.

Oh, and on a totally unrelated issue, the NRA’s new president, James Porter, takes over on Monday. No, not the catholic priest convicted of molesting 28 children in the 1990’s, the other one, the nut case. You know, the guy from Alabama who said President Obama was our “fake president” who wants to make the United States a “European socialistic, bureaucratic type of government”; who said Hilary Clinton was “trying to kill the Second Amendment at the United Nations”; and who refers to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression”? Yeah, that guy. Outgoing NRA president David Keene said Porter was a “perfect fit” for the NRA presidency. First time I’ve ever agreed with the NRA. Now that’s statistically significant.

Two Videos, a Picture and a Question

Simple post today. Just two videos for you to view and think about and one picture for you to think about and answer.

Here is the first video:

How Many More Rounds?

If that didn’t move you, you have no pulse.

Here is the second:

Deja Vu

Now a question. How many more presidents, Republican or Democrat, will have to reorder those words and give the same speech with the same emotion and sincerity before we demand Congress does something? Before we demand that the “gun culture” in America is a failure that does not provide security to its citizens and that we embrace legislation similar to other industrialized nations who neither suffer our gun caused carnage nor understand our acceptance of it in the name of some bastardized definition of freedom? How long?

Now a picture for you to consider:

NRA Terrorist Organization

Discuss, debate, ruminate and then ACT. Now.

David and Goliath

David and Goliath

Say what you want about the NRA (and I’ve said a lot), but their strength is in their organization. They are big and bad because they are organized. With a historically Pavlovian and rabid clutch that froths at the mouth and considers victory to be anything President Obama loses, they are armed to the teeth, stand ready to denigrate any opposing position and contribute readily to the NRA coffers. Meet Goliath.

The other side consists of a patchwork of dedicated and passionate activists from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to Moms Demand Action to Americans for Responsible Solutions to Preventing Newtown and including a myriad of locally organized groups focusing on federal, state and local issues relating to gun violence. Meet David.

The chasm that exists between these sides cannot be bridged by debate. One side deems compromise as a “slippery slope” toward an infringement of “God given” rights (as if the Constitution and its amendments were somehow belched from a burning bush onto stone tablets) while the other continually feels the need to genuflect to an unalterable second amendment while ignoring that the solution required is a national one and not provincial, and constantly engaged in a meaningless argument with the opposition that ultimately leads nowhere but to further division.

The NRA will never negotiate nor compromise on anything when they have the high ground (to use a military analogy, if not a moral one). Nor does it have to. Goliath will never bend when David is only armed with a river rock. The solution lies in the organization, assimilation and merging of the various gun control groups into a well-funded, well-oiled machine with a reach capable of touching the highest offices in America and a grassroots organization fervently motivated to affect change.

There has been precious little discussion of this happening however and that does not bode well for the movement. Inroads need to be taken to merge the organizations and their coffers into one cohesive giant with a war chest ready for battle. The nation’s gun addiction needs a national solution. Too many times have we heard that Illinois has strong gun laws but there is daily carnage in Chicago. The same argument goes for Washington, D.C. and now for Massachusetts with people questioning how the Boston Marathon bombers got their guns. Only when these groups speak with one voice and carry a large enough boulder to damage Goliath will he pay attention. Only when the message is crystallized and the messenger big enough will Congress blink.

This is not an insurmountable challenge. In fact, while the patchy gun control groups realize their strength in numbers (90% of Americans want stronger background checks) but weakness in fragmentation, the NRA is suffering a previously unheard of fragmentation within its ranks. High profile members are publicizing their departures from the group. Members are speaking out that the NRA does not speak for them. There is a disconnect between the leadership and the rank and file. So too, other groups are commanding attention, such as Gun Owners of America and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (based in, of all places, Newtown, Connecticut).

In effect, momentum can be achieved on two fronts. First David will get stronger by the coalescence of the various gun control groups while Goliath will weaken through the fragmentation of its membership and the membership’s uneasy acceptance of its leadership.  These two tectonic shifts may result in Congress “showing some guts” to address gun violence in America. We know how the story ends. But, only when Goliath feels threatened by an equal will it negotiate. Only then will America realize that we do not have to accept daily gun deaths in deference to those preparing for some fantasy, tyrannical government overthrow. Only then will David raise the first amendment to equal footing with the second. Only then will logic and compassion replace paranoia and paralysis. Only then.